Adopt a Classroom: Give a Year of Diverse Books

Elizabeth Bluemle -- January 31st, 2017

Grace Lin’s beautiful contribution to one of my earliest ShelfTalker posts—almost seven years ago—about the (literally) ivory tower of publishing. Not enough has changed since then. Click on the image to see a dozen more powerful pieces of art created by artists we invited to address the topic.

Greetings from chilly Minneapolis, which hosted this year’s Winter Institute (the bookselling community’s annual educational conference). I won’t recap the conference; Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness have posted terrific photos and highlights from the sessions, like the phenomenal breakfast keynote by Roxane Gay, who took the entire book industry to task not only for its continued lack of inclusiveness at a systemic level, but for complacently allowing inclusion efforts to stop at inviting people of color to participate  on panels, and for expecting people of color to lead the way and do the work of activism for us. (Read more of her comments here, thanks to Shelf Awareness.)

Gay’s rallying cry reinforced and galvanized passionate booksellers, who raised concerns and calls to action throughout the weekend, especially at the well-attended Town Hall Meeting. The wheels of righting racism grind exceeding slow, but many booksellers, publishers, and American Booksellers Association staff and board members are heading home with renewed determination, ideas, and fire in the belly to take meaningful action.

In addition to stepping up my own efforts to do outreach to make our bookstore staff more diverse, I’ve decided to focus energy on a program I’ve wanted to implement for two years. It’s an idea I first heard from blogger and literacy activist Edi Campbell at a conference on diversity in publishing. Brilliant in its simplicity, this is something just about any individual can do for a few dollars a month, and something any bookstore can help scores of individuals to accomplish: adopt one classroom and donate a book each month to the classroom’s library. That’s it! The donated books—celebrating the rich tapestry of people who share this nation—will be wonderful, engaging, and inclusive, and at the end of the year, the classroom will have a dozen new titles (two in September and December, and two in May for schools that end in May).

My plan for the store’s Adopt-a-Classroom Program is this:

We will introduce the Adopt-a-Classroom Program to customers and teachers, explaining how it works: customers will come to the store or use our website to choose one book each month to donate to a preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school classroom. The chosen books must feature real or fictional characters who are traditionally underrepresented in literature, so that the recipient classroom library becomes richer, more inclusive, and welcoming for all students, helping them see themselves and others reflected on the pages of their books.

The bookstore will offer customers our educator discount for these purchases.

We will help match customers with classrooms in need if they don’t already have a classroom in mind.

For customers desiring some guidance on what to donate, we will have lists of recommended books for preschool and grades K-3, 4-5, and 6-8. We will also use as a resource our World Full of Color database of more than 1,300 books featuring main characters of color in a multitude of stories that are not primarily driven by issues of race.

We will invite teachers to share any wish list books with us (as long as those books fill the inclusive mission of this program).

This is just the kernel of the plan. There are so many ways to be creative and expand on the idea!

Once we have the information sheet written and designed, and the logistical mechanisms in place, I’ll post again and share the materials so that other bookstores can use them as a springboard.

***

Winter Institute colleagues, what plans are you bringing home to your stores?

P.S. It’s also almost February and Black History Month, so I wanted to direct people back to the September post, A Joyful Diversity Collection, which, among other titles, features many books about African-American heroes, explorers, inventors, scientists, artists, musicians, doctors, social innovators, and so much more. In these dark days, it’s even more important to add JOY, triumph, inspiration, and hope to your Black History Month displays!

13 thoughts on “Adopt a Classroom: Give a Year of Diverse Books

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    Lovely and generous idea; just one caveat: when a public institution welcomes books from one source, it must welcome books from all sources, or create a policy outlining why some books are accepted and others not. Libraries have long dealt with the “unwelcome gift” problem, and one can well imagine Tea Party traditionalists inundating schools and classrooms with materials that are full of bias.

      1. Kenny Brechner

        I think that’s true Elizabeth. We have had a Wish List for school libraries program for years in which customers purchase books for the library which were selected by the librarians. There hasn’t been an outside source issue. Great post! This is a terrific idea.

    1. Eileen Gilbert

      As someone who supports both some Tea Party principles and diversity in books, I know that the positions are not mutually exclusive. As a librarian, I acknowledge the fact that not all donations are welcome!

    2. Cici

      While I agree that a wish list is optimal, I would like to point out that the teacher still has final say in what books she/he chooses to display in her classroom. In the unlikely event that a biased book was donated, the teacher can easily relegate to the bottom of the bin.

  2. Liz Tipping

    I love this idea. I have a school (although not a particular classroom) in mind, and will see if the local community would be interested in adopting other classes so that we can support the entire school. Keep building on the idea and keep us posted!

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